Nikita Biryukov: "Moscow has long since become unfit for bringing up self-sufficient people".

The leader of "ABV Group" on the contemporary Moscow, the profession of an architect, and the absence of hopes for a better future

Interviewed by:
Alla Pavlikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

07 June 2013
Nikita Biryukov
ABV Group

Archi.ru: It has been over four years since the global economic crisis of 2008. How do you think architecture changed over these years?

Nikita Biryukov: I think it is still too early to judge whether or not the architecture changed after the crisis. The "medical" results of the architectural development will manifest themselves in a pretty long while. In fact, the crisis is still there, and architecture is a pretty inert process. And - today's situation is hardly better than the one that we had back in 2008. Yes, things are getting livelier a little bit but even if they are it is only because this process is by definition a long-term thing - most projects that are under construction today had been launched still before the crisis.

Archi.ru: How would you describe today's vector of development for the architecture in this country?

Nikita Biryukov: Sadly, I cannot say that it is satisfactory - in fact, this vector points in the completely wrong direction. I only see how things stand in Moscow; in the other cities things must be still worse. Architecture is a cost demanding business that requires serious investment. Today, for obvious reasons, everybody is trying to save up. Virtually all of the assets that were in the developers' hands have moved to the banks now, and the charismatic leaders have been replaced by crisis managers whose primary objective is implementing budgets. Most of them do not know a thing about the essence of the process, and this is why they are totally incapable of building up new venues or generating a scenario of developing this or that area. As a rule, they work with the already-formed and partially developed sites only to bring them to some kind of an end result - which is not even always positive. With such a background, one can hardly speak about any serious architectural movements or achievements.

Archi.ru: And what does this "background" do to the architects?

Nikita Biryukov: I can only speak for myself - life in the profession has become boring these days. The work in this city is being monopolized. Ever so often I get the feeling of a déjà vu, like we're back in the 90's. And this is disappointing because for more than 20 years, we have been growing together - both architects and developers. When we were just entering this business, we knew very little about it ourselves. Over the years, however, what we did was learn and grow. During all these years, when an educated customer came to the architect, he would know in advance what he was capable of, what was his personal potential. What we have today, however, is complete substitution of values - everything is gained through a tender. And look who is winning all those tenders? Great architects? Gosh, no! The tenders are won by the cheapest offers that are often made by companies with a shady past. Look at what is going on with "Slavyanka" shopping mall! First they hired the "Russians" of Turkish make, and they got what they got. And now they are hiring a couple of companies to do the facades. I think that signing up for such a job must be below one's dignity. And it is not just about the facades - it is about careless attitude towards the place. This complex should have been at least half its actual size - and then everything else would come out splendidly.

Archi.ru: Still, I wouldn't go as far as to claim that today's architecture can be compared to what they were building in the 1990's.

Nikita Biryukov: Of course, there is a difference, everybody has got more experience now. There are also new technologies and new materials. But the core of the profession is still the same, isn't it? Those who worked responsibly before, they work just as responsibly now. There was, after all, great architecture before the 1990's, wasn't there? There is but one formula: quality of solutions and quality of implementation.

Archi.ru: Today, Moscow is undergoing a change of power, new people have been appointed to the key positions, and the city itself has changed - it is more than double its recent size. How can you comment on the change of the architectural image of our capital?

Nikita Biryukov: I have no illusions as far as the new power is concerned. People come and go - the government remains the same. Moscow is still the same milking cow that it used to be. I am appalled to look at our city that has been damaged, and the damage is long-term. I enjoy watching old movies where Moscow is still green, where there are few cars in Moscow, and people walk the sidewalks and parks undisturbed. Today's Moscow is not a city for living - it is a city for making money, and not for making joy and happiness. Granted, my opinion may not be objective but, sadly, I am not the only one who thinks that way. The city has become angry and mean. And this dark and dangerous energy goes a long way to shape up the way we think and the way we live. In my opinion, Moscow has long since become unfit for bringing up self-sufficient people. This city is ruled by frightening vulgarity. I would never have thought that I would live into the day that I want to leave this city - but today it is just disgusting to live here. And we destroyed this city with our own hands - we have only ourselves to blame.

Archi.ru: What do you think of active participation of foreign companies in the architectural life of our country and our capital?

Nikita Biryukov: Yes, there is indeed a plague of foreigners living and working in Russia now. They are numerous, and they are different - just as we are. As a rule, the commissioner invites them at the initial design stages, when architectural proposals and concepts are developed, and then the project is fine-tuned by the domestic architects. Today, this workflow is quite common. Our company is doing a few such projects. For example, to work on the project of the business park in Skolkovo we were invited as the general planner, when the architectural proposal by the British company Scott Brownrigg was already approved. Working with this company was quite comfortable for us. When still at the stage of development of working documents we invited them to participate in the development of the project. Generally, however, as far as the presence of the western architects on the Russian market is concerned, I should point out the following: our foreign colleagues offer a product that is quite competitive but, at the same time, is not something that is out of the ordinary. If this same task had initially been assigned to our studio, we would have handled it just as well.

Archi.ru: If our homeland specialists are capable of doing the same job just as well, then why does the customer opt for the foreign architects?

Nikita Biryukov: The commissioner that invites the western specialists because of their different mentality, different educational background, and different approach to designing things - I cannot blame him, really, because over the last 20 years our architects brought discredit upon themselves. I am not speaking about EVERY designer. There are a small number of industry professionals that has been successfully working on the Russian market for quite a while now. The overall trend, however, is quite saddening - simply because the Russian architects do not get the slightest chance to redeem themselves. There was quite a situation with the tender for the renovation of the Polytechnic Museum when the Russian architects - both individual persons as well as whole Russian companies that had no foreign specialists working for them - were simply deleted from the list of the participants.

Archi.ru: What do you think is the main reason for such a precarious position of architects and architecture in this country?

Nikita Biryukov: Today, they are constantly holding up the constructivism as a model and as our national pride and lament the fact that it just slipped through our fingers. But what we need to realize is the fact that the constructivists were brought up by the powerful Russian culture. And then the entire cultural layer of this country was just severed out - some people emigrated, some died in World War Two, then there was Khrushchev's persecution... Today's generation is incapable, though hard it tries, of creating something of real value. An architect does not live and create in a vacuum. He is part of our society - just like our medical care system, education, industrial enterprises... The profession of an architect is, sadly, as under-respected as it has always been. 

I can hardly imagine that our architects and engineers will be trusted to built, say, "Burj Dubai" in the United Arab Emirates. And it is all the more saddening because of the fact that before the October Socialist Revolution of 1917 the Russian architects did create things that made history. Back then, the architects were trusted with the construction as well as with the budget. Now such a system successfully operates in Switzerland, where the architects hire the architects hire the contractors, form their team, and supervise their work from beginning to end.

Archi.ru: Well, but if there is no making amends, as you say, then perhaps some mechanisms must be developed so as to prevent things from going from bad to worse? How would you describe a perfect architect of today? Perhaps, we should start with education?

Nikita Biryukov: The "mechanism" is always the same. It is the law and its strict implementation instead of a variety of interpretations. The architect is always doing somebody's commission. We all are dependent people. As for the education... Russia has no comprehensive architectural education today in it. Moscow Institute of Architecture as a professional higher education institution has virtually been destroyed. All the attempts by all the high-brow people to open "schools of architecture" of their own can only make me smile. If you want to bring up a new and talented generation, some certain selection must be made over a considerable period of time. Today, the young kids get their real education after they graduate and start working with architectural companies. What will become of them is a matter of luck, to a large extent.

Nikita Biryukov
ABV Group

07 June 2013

Interviewed by:

Alla Pavlikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
comments powered by HyperComments
Headlines now
​In Three Voices
The high-rise – 41 stories high – housing complex HIDE is being built on the bank of the Setun River, near the Poklonnaya Mountain. It consists of three towers of equal height, yet interpreted in three different ways. One of the towers, the most conspicuous one looks as if it was twisted in a spiral, composed of a multitude of golden bay windows.
​In the Space of Pobedy Park
In the project of a housing complex designed by Sergey Skuratov, which is now being built near the park of the Poklonnaya Hill, a multifunctional stylobate is turned into a compound city space with intriguing “access” slopes that also take on the role of mini-plazas. The architecture of the residential buildings responds to the proximity of the Pobedy Park, on the one hand, “dissolving in the air”, and, on the other hand, supporting the memorial complex rhythmically and color-wise.
​Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
​Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
​Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
​Architectural Laboratory
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
​“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
​LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
​Celestial Tectonics
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
​Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
​The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
​The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
​Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
​The Contact
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
​In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
​The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
​...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
​Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.
Park of Sentiments
The project of “Romantic Park Tuchkov Buyan”, which was developed by the consortium of Studio 44 and WEST 8, and has won an international competition, combines sculptural landscape design and wooden structures, variety of spatial features and an eventful agenda, designed for diverse audience, with a beautiful and complex passeist idea of a palace park, meant to evoke thoughts and feelings.
​Architecture as an Educational Tool
The concept of a charity school “Tochka Budushchego” (“Point of the Future”) in Irkutsk is based on cutting-edge educational programs, and is designed, among other things, for adapting orphaned children for independent life. An important role is played by the architecture of the building: its structure and different types of interconnected spaces.
​The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
Health Constructor
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
Continuation and Development
The second “office” stage of Comcity, the most popular business park of the “New Moscow” area, continues the underground street of the already existing part of the complex, responding to its architectural identity.
​The Flying One
Expected to become an analogue of Moscow’s Skolkovo, the project of the High Park campus at Saint Petersburg’s ITMO University, designed by Studio 44, mesmerizes us with its sheer scale and the passion that the architects poured into it. Its core – the academic center – is interpreted as an avant-garde composition inspired by Piazza del Campo with a bell tower; the park is reminiscent of the “rays” of the main streets of Saint Petersburg, and, if watched from a birds-eye view, the whole complex looks like a motherboard with at least four processors on it. The design of the academic building even displays a few features of a sports arena. The project has a lot of meanings and allusions about it; all of them are united by plastique energy that the hadron collider itself could be jealous of.
​The Aperture Effect
For a housing complex built in the town of Pushkino in the Moscow metropolitan area, KPLN Architects designed facades that adjust the stream of light by using the wall geometry.
​A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
Color and Line
The new successful techniques developed by A.Len for designing a kindergarten under budget constraints: the mosaic of irregular windows and working with color.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The Countdown
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
White Town
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
​Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
​Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Pedagogical Architecture
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
​Rational Arrangement
In this article, we are examining a complex of buildings and interiors of the first stage of the project that has recently become extremely popular – the Kommunarka clinic.
​Parallel Universe
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.